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The Mapping of North America

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RUYSCH, Johannes

Universalior Cogniti Orbis Tabula Ex Recentibus Confecta Obsevationibus

Rome, 1507
410 x 550 mm., in two sheets joined as issued, with two tears in the right side lower margin, both about 9 cms., professionally repaired, otherwise in good condition with margins all round.
THE ‘FIRST PUBLISHED MAP MADE BY AN ACTUAL EXPLORER OF THE NEW WORLD’ and the FIRST AVAILABLE MAP TO ILLUSTRATE AMERICA. This is only pre-dated by a handful of manuscript portolan maps and the printed map by Giovanni Matteo Contarini and Francesco Rosselli of 1506, of which only one example survives (British Library). Martin Waldseemuller’s legendary wall map of 1507 at the Library of Congress might also pre-date it.

This map by Johannes Ruysch uses the same fan-shaped conical projection as the Contarini—Rosselli. However, where the former draws on a largely Ptolemaic format, Ruysch incorporates extensive current knowledge drawn from Portuguese, Spanish and English sources. Some of this it appears ‘is the first-hand knowledge of Ruysch himself who, it is said in the commentary that accompanies the map in the following edition of 1508, ‘has navigated from the southern part of England to 53o north latitude, and that he has sailed on the latter parallel as far as the eastern coasts [of America]’ (Burden). Thus, it may be said that this is the FIRST PRINTED MAP OF AMERICA BY SOMEONE WITH FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE.

Johannes Ruysch (c.1470-1533) is th ought to have accompanied Sebastian Cabot on his 1497 voyage to Newfoundland. He was born in Utrecht, Netherlands, and after his travels he lived in Germany and then Italy. He became a lay priest and settled in Rome. He was an accomplished astronomer and cosmographer. With the patronage of Pope Julius II, Ruysch is believed to have assisted Raphael in painting the ‘Astronomia’ and other frescoes in the Stanza della segnatura in the Vatican (1509-10).

A new edition of the 1490 Rome ‘Geographia’ by Ptolemy was planned for 1507. It was revised and edited by Marcus Beneventanus and Joannes Cota of Verona. The printer was Bernardinus Venetus de Vitalibus and publisher Evangelista Tosinus, a French publisher who had settled in Rome. For this, six new modern maps were published. The world map was intended to be a seventh but was not ready in time. Thacher wrote that ‘There is no map of the New World found in the examples bearing the date of 1507 on the title. That it was intended that there should be such a map is evident from the permission or exclusive permit to sell granted to the publisher Tosinus by Pope Julius II, and which permission is granted as a recompense for the expense Tosinus was under in securing a map of the new regions. This permission is dated July 28, 1506 … In the Rome printing office, the map was not yet ready when the first copies were printed. Shortly after, with the title page bearing simply the date 1508, but with the colophon still dated September 8, 1507, copies were issued announcing that Marcus Beneventanus had prepared a description of the New World and of the ocean pathway from Lisbon to the Indian Ocean, and that accompanying the description was a map of the entire world by Johannes Ruysch, a German’. In the text Beneventanus described Ruysch as ‘an exact and painstaking geographer’.

We do now know that the map does appear in a very few examples, clearly late issues, of the 1507 edition. The delay was undoubtedly due to the efforts made to make it accurate for there are a number of corrections made to the plates both before and after first printing. Donald McGuirk studied these various states in the 1980s which were complicated by the fact that each half was printed from a different copper plate. Earlier carto-bibliographers recorded 5 states but as each plate exists in 3 states, a possible total of 9 versions exist. McGuirk’s census of 47 maps in institutions and 17 maps in private hands, recorded examples in 6 different combinations. He came up with a logical system which labelled the states of the left plate numerically and the right one in letters. The earliest ‘1-A’ was found in 3 examples only. The one offered here is ‘1-B’ of which there were also only 3 recorded, this being one of them. The majority of those surviving are in the final ‘3-C’ state.

Further evidence on the delay in preparation of the map may be found in the fact that both plates show alterations made before the first state was printed. In the left sheet this is most notable in the region of ‘Cuba’. Although clearly labelled as such there are clear signs of alteration in this area. To its northwest is an area which has an irregularly hachured sea. Closer examination by McGuirk managed to re-create the text which had been erased. It referred to the peoples living in the northern climates and was drawn from ‘De Inventio Fortunatae’, a text of ancient origin. It described the northern region as consisting of four islands a format found on the Behiam globe of 1492. Later it was most famously taken up by Gerard Mercator in his wall map of 1569.

To the north of Cuba ‘Newfoundland is named TERRA NOVA for the first time, a harbinger of its future name. Off the coast I BACCALAVRAS is the most recognisable name, being, in fact, Baccalieu Island in the south-east of Newfoundland. The Cape of the Portuguese is found nearby’ (Burden). The latter is a reference to the rich cod-fishing grounds offshore which were being harvested by the Portuguese and English by this time. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that this had been occurring as early as the 1470s. Suarez cites ‘records in the Azores show … that Joao Vaz Corte Real, father of Gaspar and Miguel, had already returned from a voyage to ‘Bacalhaos’ by 1474. Similar evidence exists to suggest the English from Bristol were in the same waters prior to Columbus’s first voyage.

South America is named MVNDVS NOVVS for the first time’ (Burden). This is an affirmation of Amerigo Vespucci’s ‘Mundus Novus’ first published in 1504 where the term ‘New World’ is recorded for the first time. A legend records that the Portuguese have explored the Atlantic coast of South America to 50 degrees south. Brasil appears for the first time on a map with ‘R de Brasi??’. It also records that the west has not yet been explored by the Spanish. North America is however depicted as part of the Asian continent, a theory consistent with the beliefs of Christopher Columbus at the time.

Marco Polo’s Spangu (Japan) was depicted clearly on the Contarini-Rosselli but here Ruysch was troubled by its location. He says as much in an inscription and believes incorrectly that it must refer to ‘Spagnola’ (Hispaniola).

McGuirk noted nine changes to the right plate, mostly minor. It is the first printed map to record any of the Portuguese discoveries in Asia. The Indian subcontinent is more pronounced than on the Contarini-Rosselli and includes on its west coast a large amount of nomenclature. The old Ptolemaic coastline of south east Asia is fundamentally improved as are the size and position of Ceylon and Madagascar. A legend near Taprobana (Sri Lanka) identifies a Portuguese voyage to the area in 1507. This is the latest reference on the map and clearly indicates his access to the very latest Portuguese knowledge.

The depiction of the continent of Africa omitted some of the available Portuguese toponomy ‘but the sense of the proportions of the continent was sound. Naturally, the Nile was still Ptolemaic, with the Mountains of the Moon well down in southern Africa, ill conceived’ (Hadsel). ‘[Ruysch] subsequently moved to Lisbon, where he served as astronomer to the royal court of Manuel I. He died at an advanced age at the St. Martin’s Monastery in Cologne.’

As referred to before there are only three recorded examples of state 1-A, at Princeton and Yale Universities and a third which we sold to private hands in 1986. Of this following state 1-B, McGuirk also recorded only three examples, James Ford Bell Library, Yale University and this example. An extensive examination of records shows that no other early state has appeared on the market since 1986, most examples were in state 3-C.

Provnance: private English collection since 1986. Burden (1996) pp. xiv-xxiii; Fite & Freeman (1926) pp. 28-31; Hadsel (1999) pp. 23-30; Harrisse (1866) no. 56 pp. 105-10; Harrisse (1892) p. 76; Hubbard (2012) pp. 29-30; McGuirk (1989) pp. 133-41; Meurer (2007) History of Cartography vol. 3, pt. 2, pp. 1188-9; Nordenskiold Collection (1979) nos. 202-3; Nordenskiold (1889) ‘Facsimile Atlas’ pp. 63-7, pl. 32; Shirley World no. 25; Stevens (1908) p. 42; Suarez (1991) pp. 40-51; Suarez (1999) pp. 102-9; Swan, Bradford (1951) ‘The Ruysch Map of the World (1507-08), in ‘Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 54, pp. 219-36; Thacher (1896) p. 210; Woodward (1983).
Stock number: 7572


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